• Tara Nelson

Understanding Your Overactive Thyroid

Updated: Jun 16

Have you been diagnosed with an overactive thyroid?


As an overactive thyroid is rarer than an underactive thyroid, there is often a lack of support and knowledge. The medical approach aims to move you over to an underactive thyroid, which brings its own host of problems.


The good news is that there are ways to address an overactive thyroid naturally. Let’s take a closer look at this condition, and how you can deal with it using a more holistic approach.


What is an overactive thyroid?

An overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, is when your thyroid gland produces more thyroid hormones than your body needs. This speeds up your metabolism, forcing your body to work harder and faster.


Women tend to experience hyperthyroidism more often than men. However, as it is far less common than hypothyroid conditions, there is far less information and support available for it.


What causes hyperthyroidism?

There are a few main causes of hyperthyroidism. However, each of these also have contributing factors that have led to their development.


An autoimmune condition known as Graves' is the most common form of hyperthyroidism.


Another cause is nodules or lumps that grow in the thyroid. These increase the production of thyroid hormone. This is known as toxic nodular or multi-nodular goitre.


Hyperthyroidism can be caused by thyroiditis – inflammation of the thyroid. This inflammation causes the thyroid to leak stored thyroid hormones. The most common form of thyroiditis is Hashimoto’s, another autoimmune condition.


Finally, there are some cases of the thyroid becoming overactive due to pregnancy, viral infections or from taking too much thyroid hormone when on medication.


Common symptoms of an overactive thyroid

As with all thyroid conditions, the symptoms are often unique to the person. This is because thyroid hormone affects almost every cell in the body, so any of your body's systems could develop symptoms.


Some of the common symptoms of an overactive thyroid include:

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Increased appetite

  • A racing heartbeat, skipped beats and palpitations

  • Shortness of breath

  • Increased sweating and greater sensitivity to heat

  • Diarrhoea

  • Goitre - swelling of the thyroid gland

  • Fatigue, particularly feeling ‘tired but wired’

  • Muscle weakness

  • Trembling, tremor or shakiness

  • Fine brittle hair

  • Nervousness and anxiety

  • Irritability

  • Insomnia

  • Menstrual changes such as a lighter flow and increased cycle length

  • Infertility

How conventional medicine approaches hyperthyroid conditions

As hyperthyroidism is damaging to the body, the medical model focuses on killing off thyroid tissue. The steps taken include:

  • Anti-thyroid drugs that prevent the thyroid from producing hormones

  • A dose of radioactive iodine to damage the thyroid gland

  • Surgery to remove the thyroid gland

Once these treatment options are used and the thyroid is damaged or removed, you will become hypothyroid instead. You will need to take thyroid hormone medication for life.


The naturopathic approach to an overactive thyroid

Unlike the medical approach, a holistic approach isn’t about switching you from hyper to hypo! Instead, it focuses on addressing why the thyroid gland is overproducing hormones in the first place. We also want to support the body and protect it from the damage of high thyroid hormone levels.


To do this, I follow 4 main steps when working with hyperthyroid cases.


Step 1 – Identify the cause(s)

We cannot stop the disease process if we don’t know what is going on in the first place! This is not just about deciding on the direct cause of the overactive thyroid. It is also about uncovering potential root causes.


For example, take Graves’ as a cause of hyperthyroidism. Any autoimmune condition is caused by a confused immune system going rogue. This can occur due to problems such as poor gut health, low nutrient levels, high inflammation levels and stress.


Once we have identified the most likely causes, we can address them with the next 3 steps.


Step 2 – Optimise the diet

When it comes to the diet, there are a few things we want to address – gut healing, increasing nutrient intake and removing any triggers.


As the gut plays such a key role in any health condition, particularly autoimmunity, we want to nourish the gut and address any issues such as leaky gut. This will also help to reduce inflammation in the body.


Avoiding trigger foods and intolerances helps to support the gut, increase nutrient absorption and reduces inflammation.


Many people with hyperthyroidism do well on a diet that is low in gluten, dairy and grains and focused on antioxidant-rich wholefoods and quality sources of protein.


Step 3 – Address any deficiencies

There are many nutrient deficiencies that occur with an overactive thyroid. This can be due to the root causes, or as a consequence of the increased metabolism. Unfortunately, it can worsen the situation as we need specific nutrients for optimal thyroid function.


Some of the nutrient deficiencies I often see in hyperthyroidism include:

  • Vitamin D

  • Selenium

  • Iodine

  • L-carnitine

  • Zinc

Pathology testing will help us to identify which nutrients you need more of to support your body’s processes.


Step 4 – Adjust the lifestyle

Finally, we need to look at the lifestyle factors that may have contributed. Poor sleep, high stress levels, caffeine and alcohol use, medications and even environmental toxins can play a role in an overactive thyroid.


Everyone has different needs, but we will typically look at:

  • Optimising sleep quantity and quality

  • Managing stress effectively

  • Introducing relaxation and meditation techniques

  • Including daily movement that supports the body

  • Reducing or removing as many lifestyle triggers for hyperthyroidism as possible

If you have been told that there is no alternative to damaging or removing your thyroid, I’m here to tell you that there is a more holistic approach you can take.


Together, we can get to the bottom of your overactive thyroid and get you back on track to health! To book an appointment, click here.

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